The History of Simmons Furniture

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The History of Simmons Furniture
The History of Simmons Furniture (Image: Simmons has built its reputation on making mattresses. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Simmons is a name that has become synonymous with bedding. The Simmons Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia, has more than $1.1 billion in worldwide sales (2007) and employs 3,800 people (2007). It has the largest share in the bedding furniture market. Its products include Simmons, Beautyrest, Simmons BackCare, Olympic Queen and other bedding furniture products.

The Beginnings of Simmons

Zalmon Simmons was the president of Rock Island Railroad, president of Northwest Telegraph Company and mayor of Kenosha, Wisconsin. He began his newest venture in 1870 when he bought a cheese box factory. His goal was not to enter the cheese box market, but to use the equipment to make a wooden telegraph insulator he had designed. Another one of his ventures was owning and running the Kenosha General Store. One day, he accepted a patent for a bed spring as payment for a purchase at the store. At this point in time, mattresses were essentially large pillows stuffed with horsehair or cotton. Simmons used his new company to begin working to make bed spring manufacture an affordable process. At the same time, Simmons also began manufacturing brass beds.

Growing and Specializing

Zalmon Simmons, Jr. took over the Simmons Company in 1911 and incorporated it in 1915. Under his guidance, he made the inner spring mattress his father had worked to make affordable available to middle-class Americans. The company grew as it acquired other mattress manufacturers and it moved to New York in 1919. By 1925, a machine that could make the springs that formed the basis of the Beautyrest Mattress was created. The new mattress debuted the following year at $39.50. It was about twice what other mattresses at the time cost, but still affordable to the middle class. The first year's sales were $3 million and $9 million by 1929.

Weathering the Depression

Zalmon's son, Grant, took over the company in 1929 and kept it running through the Depression when the company's stock fell from $200 a share to 3 cents. Simmons Company began to study how people sleep so it could better meet their needs with Simmons products.

Innovations

Simmons debuted Hide-A-Bed, the first sofa bed, in 1940. In 1958, supersize mattresses were introduced. These were the first queen-size and king-size mattresses on the market. By 1968, Simmons showed $8 million in profit with little debt. The company was also expanding to make bedroom, children's and hospital room furniture. It also manufactured high-end wallpaper, fabric wallpaper, upholstery, drapery fabric and caskets.

No Longer a Family Business

Simmons moved its headquarters to Atlanta in 1975, but the decade was hard on the company, and it saw a decrease in its market share. Plants were closed, employees laid off and product lines trimmed. The company was acquired by Gulf and Western in 1979, which had been buying up shares for years.

Simmons Today

In 2008, Simmons operated 18 manufacturing facilities in the United States. It also licenses its brand names to foreign manufacturers so that its products are now sold in more than 100 countries. The company is now majority owned by Fenway Partners. Other major partners include Investcorp and Simmons employees.

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